September 28, 2012

Spaghetti & Meat Sauce, or What I Mean When I Say Gravy

Yesterday the woman I work with and I were talking. I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but she was telling me a story about how her son wouldn't eat raviolis at a friend's house because they used jarred sauce. So I followed up with my own story about how surprised I was to learn just how many people used that jarred sauce. It was a shock when I discovered that most people don't make their own gravy.

You see, my dad always joked that he'd married the only Italian in Brooklyn that didn't know how to cook. But my mom would always make a gravy with pork or meatballs or sausage or braciole (I had to look up how to spell that. It doesn't look like it's pronounced, which is bra-jhole). I always assumed that that meant a gravy was one of the easiest things that you could make, and that everyone made it.
I can see all the blank looks you're giving me. I can hear you muttering to yourselves, "why is she calling it gravy? It's not gravy, it's pasta sauce." And to you I say... I actually don't know why we call it gravy. We just do. And if someone says, "I'm making a gravy," it brings to mind a giant pot, simmering away for hours on the stove, and snacks of a nice slice of Italian bread, smothered in the steaming sauce. Or a slice of fresh mozzarella melted by the heat of the gravy. Or the little meatballs that I made with my grandmother, that she always kept separate just for me. Saying that you're making a gravy brings to mind the smell of those cooking tomatoes and garlic and spicy Italian sausage that permeates everything and makes your mouth water and your tummy rumble (hence all the different snacking options).

Edit: According to my know-it-all brother, it's called a gravy because it contains the meat drippings, like the brown stuff you make for turkey. Sauce is meat free. So HA!

If you say, "I'm making pasta sauce," I think of a thin tomato sauce with no meat. Like the jarred stuff. I don't know why. I've learned that my mind is a mysterious place.
I tried to make it not look like a smiley face, but it didn't work.
Since being a food blogger and entering into the foodie community, I've seen people say things like, "I'm being authentic tonight and making pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes," and I just kind of blink in confusion. Maybe Italians from Italy still use fresh tomatoes, but no Italian I know does. Even Nadia G uses canned tomatoes. Canned just cooks down easier.

Not that I've never cooked with fresh tomatoes. I've cooked down some cherry tomatoes for sauces over meats or stir fries, but thin sauces. Not a gravy. (Okay, maybe I do know why I think of the word sauce like that.) But I generally prefer fresh tomatoes as-is. A nice thick slice with fresh mozz and some fresh basil. Yum.
As you may have noticed, I also made meatballs. What's that? You want the recipe? Take some ground meat, put it in a bowl. Add some spices. Add a couple handfuls of breadcrumbs and a couple handfuls of grated cheese. Smush it all together with your hands, then form into small balls. Brown on each side and cook through (like in that big pot of gravy that will be cooking for the next 6 hours). I know it's a very exact and scientific recipe, but I think you can handle it. ^_^

Confession: I actually don't add my spices at the end. I add them at the beginning, and I like it better that way. But I also know how it should taste at the beginning versus how it should taste at the end. You novices don't want to over-season (but a pot this big is very forgiving, if you want to experiment).
Happy spaghetti is happy.
Meat Sauce (aka Gravy) {Printable Version}

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
12 oz. water
2 bay leaves
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese

Garlic (powder to taste or 2 cloves minced)
Crushed red pepper (optional)


In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. If using minced garlic, add to the oil and cook until fragrant. Add the ground meat and onions, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the meat is browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, paste, and water, and stir until well combined. Add the bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a minimum of 2 hours, 4-6 hours preferable. Add the cheese, stirring well until fully incorporated. Season as desired (I like lots of oregano and garlic, with just a pinch of red pepper). Take off the heat and serve over pasta.

Tip: After draining the pasta, mix in 1-2 cups of sauce. This does dual duty of flavoring the pasta and keeping it from sticking together.

Recipe by Kim (with help from Mom)

September 25, 2012

Mighty Maple Banana Muffins and the Monday Morning Terror

I've never claimed to be a brave person. As a matter of fact, I'm a total wuss. But if you asked me what the one thing is that I'm more terrified of than anything else, I wouldn't even hesitate with the answer. Because it's spiders.

I have severe arachnophobia. I can feel confident diagnosing myself like that because a) I have a degree in psychology and can recognize signs of a severe phobia and b) because I have a paralyzing and debilitating fear of spiders.

In psychology, a phobia is defined as an intense and mostly irrational fear. Phobias like arachnophobia are called specific phobias because they center around a specific and definable thing. Arachnophobia is the most common specific phobia, though let me tell you, that doesn't make me feel any better.

I don't know why I have this fear of spiders, and I don't mind telling you that it is completely irrational. I've never gotten a spider bite or had a specifically traumatizing experience with them. In fact, when I was little and in Girl Scout camp, I used to swallow down my fear around the Daddy Long-Legs when all the other little girls would scream, somehow realizing that someone needed to be a rational human being. I figured, the less scared I acted every time I encountered them, the less scared I would feel. And that should have worked since exposure is the best treatment for a phobia (although to be fair, Daddy Long-Legs aren't the most spidery and while I don't particularly like them, they don't inspire the same kind of fear as their creepy crawly cousins).

Why am I sharing this? Because yesterday I almost died, and a spider was to blame.
I was driving to work, minding my own business, singing along to some Queen, and I feel something brush against my arm. I think it's just a piece of my hair, so I go to wipe it away, and I turn my head to look as I do so.

It's a spider. A big one. About half an inch long. And white. Dangling on his web just over my arm.

I don't think that I have to tell you that I jumped. And probably swerved. And let lose a stream of curses that would make a sailor blush. I somehow managed to keep my car on the road. The thing was dangling on its web right by my window, and I somehow had the presence of mind to think to open the window and hope it would get sucked out by the wind. But it managed to find its way to safety by the time that thought occurred to me. Then I figured that I would pull over into the next parking lot and kill it dead, because I knew that there was no way I could drive all the way to work with a spider scurrying around my head. I'd get into an accident.

The spider must have sensed my plans for assassination, because he decided right then would be a great time to hang out on my steering wheel. You know, in my direct line of sight, where my hands are. Despite the fact that the next parking lot was mere yards away, I knew I'd never make it, and if it crawled onto my hands, I might have a heart attack, if not I'd probably flip the Silver Dragon over, and if I didn't die then, I'd be trapped in a wreck with a spider crawling over my face. So I reached over, grabbed my book-- a nice, big trade paperback, about 600 pages-- and whacked at the spider.

When I took the book away, the spider was gone, and I convinced myself that if I looked at the floor of the car, I'd find his smushed little spider corpse. Except at the next light I looked, and I didn't see it. I wanted to go home right then and switch cars with someone, but I was running late as it was, and the other receptionist had called out sick. So I spent the world's most harrowing car ride that morning driving to work. My arm hair was standing on end. I kept feeling phantom creepy-crawlies that I would swear was the spider crawling up my pants. My muscles were so tense that they twitched. And I could swear that I kept feeling something brush against my toes, and I yelled at myself because, really, why would I wear peep toes at the end of September? Who does that?
When I finally made it home, I needed the solace of muffins. These muffins. These soft, peanut buttery muffins with banana and maple syrup. These muffins don't judge me. They don't laugh at my terror. The don't mock me. They just sit there, all soft and comforting, saying, "It's all right. We understand. We will fill your belly with love." And they do. In fact, they fill my belly with so much love, that I never want to stop at just one. I eat one and then I immediately start craving a second one. Seriously, I think about eating them all day long. I'm surprised that I don't start dreaming about them.

I used Mighty Maple peanut butter in these, and I really love the intense peanut butter flavor it provides. Although, truth: I made these with a full cup of peanut butter, and the peanut butter flavor was a little too intense when they were fresh. It mellowed out some the next day, but I dialed back the peanut butter in the recipe for you. Also, these are egg-free and can easily be made vegan by using a dairy-free spread in place of the butter.
And there's actually some closure to my story of terror. This morning I get into the car, and I'm still on high alert for the spider that was never found. And the audacious little sucker decides it's going to try the same thing, dangling off its web right by my window. I was prepared for it this time, and while I still jumped and cursed, I managed to get the window open, and this time it did get sucked out, and I am far too pleased with myself for defeating the spider. I just pray that it didn't have friends.

Mighty Maple Banana Muffins {Printable Version}

Yield: 16 muffins

2 cups flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¾ cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 bananas, mashed
¾ cup Mighty Maple peanut butter*
1/3 cup maple syrup
1½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until smooth. Add the bananas, peanut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla, and beat until everything is fully incorporated. Fold in the flour mixture, and mix it in completely. Fill a muffin tin most of the way with batter, and bake for 20-22 minutes until the tops are firm and lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack.

Tip: I topped these with prepared crisp mix, but you can top them with a streusel, quick oats, or even granola if you’d like. Or leave the tops plain.

*If you’re using regular peanut butter, add ¼ tsp. maple flavoring.

Recipe by Kim

September 21, 2012

Applesauce Cake

I've been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. Did you know the root algia- means pain? And the first half comes from the Greek word nostos, which meant "home coming." So the etymological definition of the word nostalgia quite literally means "painful home-coming." Of course the etymological definition doesn't always precisely mesh with the actual definition (my favorite is asteroid which is parsed into aster- meaning star, and  oid- which means shape, so asteroid means shape of a star. That always struck me as cute.)

But nostalgia does evoke a pain of some sort, even if it's just the pain of longing. Oddly enough, this is the season for nostalgia, especially among bakers and foodies. Fall brings out the traditionalists in all of us, with recipes for "Grandma's mashed potatoes" or "Mom's apple pie."

I think I've said before that I've never really had a tradition of cooking in my family (other than the uniquely Italian need to feed everyone we're remotely acquainted with), and that I was jealous of those that had their own nostalgic memories of cooking at the elbow of their little Italian grandmothers. Maybe that's what's got me in such a maudlin mood. In this season of tradition and secret family recipes, I feel left out in the steadily increasing cold (see what I did there?).
But then I realize, I may not have those traditions and recipes to start from, but I can sure as heck fake it 'till I make it. Take traditional flavors, shlop it in a bundt pan, dust it with powdered sugar, and no one will know the difference. And it's mine, no one else's. Maybe one day, I'll be a little old Italian grandmother, or a great-auntie, and I'll have little ones that make this with me at my elbow, and someday they'll post a hologram on the neuronet and call it Grandma's Traditional Applesauce Cake. And I'll just be chortling away in my zero-gravity sleep chamber because I fooled them all.
In the meantime, newly minted mothers and grandmothers and aunties who might be feeling the burden of tradition can borrow my strategy and recipe and make it so they can fake it.

Applesauce Cake {Printable Version}
Yield: 12 servings

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 365 degrees F. Generously grease and flour 1 regular Bundt pan. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars together at medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in the flour, alternating with the applesauce. Before the flour has been fully incorporated, add the vinegar and mix well. Spread evenly into the prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch (some small soft spots are okay; those will firm up while cooling). Cool completely on a wire rack.

To serve: Level the cooled cake with a serrated knife before flipping it onto a serving dish. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

Recipe by Kim
Why yes, this is the recipe I used for baby CC's smash cake (modified slightly for sugar content), and it is a modified version of my applesauce cupcakes and applesauce whoopie pies. Aren't you clever?

September 16, 2012

Zucchini Brownies

Once upon a time, there was a girl. This girl was maybe not the most deft hand in the kitchen. She messed up box mixes and was a bit skeeved by raw meat. Still, something inside the girl kept telling her that cooking was something that she could do, that she would be good at, if only she kept trying.

Then the girl's mother started doing a "Biggest Loser" challenge at work. The girl wanted to help her mother in some way. Then she remembered something one of her home ec teachers had mentioned many years ago: zucchini brownies.
Most of the girl's classmates had been disgusted by the idea, but the girl had been intrigued, especially when the teacher had mentioned that you didn't taste the zucchini, and it just cooked down to make the brownies moist and cakey. Years later, the girl remembered that off-hand remark made by her teacher, and did some research. Over time, the girl perfected the recipe, and it was constantly requested by dieting family members, as the recipe was fat-free, and could easily be made low (or even no) sugar. Despite being diet friendly, the brownies were just as moist and cakey as that long ago teacher had promised, and gooey if undercooked just slightly.
These brownies were the first recipe that the girl ever felt comfortable calling her own, and she was very proud of them. Not only did they taste good, but they were vegan and diet friendly as well. Years later, the girl became a food blogger and had plenty of other recipes under her belt. But these brownies would forever retain a special place in her heart, for they were her first proof that yes, she did have skill in the kitchen. If it weren't for these brownies, the girl would have never started a baking blog, and we wouldn't be here today.
Zucchini Brownies {Printable Version}
Yield: 12 brownies

2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups peeled, grated zucchini (about 2 small or 1 very large)
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1½ cup granulated sugar (or ¾ cup sugar and ¾ granulated sugar substitute)
½ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add
all remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until all ingredients are fully
incorporated (batter may be very thick). Pour into an 8x8 inch or 9x9 inch baking dish and bake 30-35
minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Let cool on a wire rack before

Tip: If you don’t plan on eating these brownies within a day or so, refrigerate the leftovers. Because of the zucchini, they go bad quickly at room temperature.

Recipe by Kim

This recipe is featured on Foodie Friends Friday Linky Party!

September 13, 2012

Review: Stone House at Stirling Ridge

 As you may have realized from my last post, I was recently at a fancy-pants restaurant. One that had a cheese menu and where I spent the night talking about monkey poo. Well, it's not every day that I go to fancy places that induce me to be as crass as possible, so I took along my camera to review it for the blog.

(I want to apologize in advance for some of my photos; the lighting was weird, and I had my little point and shoot, which I'm not used to using. And these are the best after I cut it down by over half. *wince*)

 For my parent's 30th anniversary, the sister-in-law recommended Stone House at Stirling Ridge. Let me say this first: this place is pricey (of course, I didn't write down the prices, because I'm an idiot, but trust me on this). And not especially close to where we live. I was a little confused as to why they chose it, especially since we live within a stone's throw of a lot of really good restaurants. But the brother and sister-in-law were paying, so I held my tongue. Mostly.
The location was a bit remote, way up in the mountains (yes, we do have mountains in New Jersey. Smallish ones. But still mountains.) My old Squeaker van would have died halfway up the steep roads. As it was, the sister-in-law's Misty reminded me a little too much of the little engine that could. The trade off for the trouble of getting there? The grounds are absolutely stunning.
The Stone House itself is really just that-- a stone house. A lovely, rustic stone building, with this quirky wine room towards the front. It had a ladder inside, and I kept trying to urge one of the three drinkers at the table to find a bottle of wine near the top and order it, so I could watch the server climb up the ladder. They didn't.
Waiting at the table for us was a plate of crostini and veggies. A nice touch, I thought. A bit like the free chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant. One thing that really confused me was that everything was served on these very clean, modern dishes, with this weirdy modern silverware (my brother complained about the knives all night, which really weren't all that functional). The feel of the restaurant was overwhelmingly rustic, so these undeniably modern touches didn't really jive with me. The site says they meld rustic with modern, but it seemed fairly random to me.

Also, they were kind of stingy with the bread. A server came around with a platter of different kinds, asked us which we would like and gave us one slice each before taking away the tray. Umm, bread basket or none at all, thanks. That kind of behavior just seems cheap.
For appetizers, we ordered the cheese plate and the charcuterie (I'm always amused when that's on the menu. I feel like telling the servers, wow, you're going to bring out a whole pork store? (a charcuterie in French is a store kind of like a pork store or deli)).

For the cheese plate, we got chef's choice, although the server offered us a cheese menu. My brother and I were very tickled by the idea of a cheese menu, and a little disappointed that we didn't get it. Stone House uses all locally sourced ingredients, so the server was able to tell us exactly where the cheeses came from, which was kind of cool. He didn't know what kind of jam we'd gotten, which was not a plus on him, but since we got chef's choice, it's possible that different plates have different jams. It really wasn't all that important, except that my mom really liked it and was curious. We think it was fig. The cheese plate also came with fruit (figs, apples, grapes), assorted nuts, and truffle honey (which I thought was seriously gross, but I don't like mushrooms or honey, so that's just on me).

The charcuterie was rather like a cold antipasto (and I'd very much wish they'd call it that instead of a pork store). It came with grilled artichokes, olives, a selection of "cured meats" (cold cuts isn't fancy enough, I guess), and some toasted bread. They were a little stingy on the meats here, and never thought of telling us what kind they were (it wasn't on the menu, and the server didn't mention it; by the time we thought of asking, they were gone anyway). The artichokes were super yummy, though. This is a dish better suited to a party of two; any more people at the table, and it's really not worth it.
Special menus for a special couple!... I think it wasn't coincidence.
I was a little disappointed with the selection of main dishes, however. To be fair, in addition to more traditional menu items, they do have a really nice selection of sushi that's actually fairly reasonably priced (though I can't vouch for how big the rolls are). But they had the air conditioning on reeeeeaaaallly high, and I happened to be sitting under a vent, so I was rather chilly. The last thing I wanted was sushi, because it's cold. So cutting out the sushi slices down the menu by half. Now, I'm not much of a meat eater, especially when it comes to beef. The grand majority of menu items beyond the sushi have beef or steak in one form or another. They had grilled pizza, but other than the margherita, they were all weird ones like short rib pizza with Gruyere cheese. Also, with beef. So my selection was severely limited (and this is not the place for vegetarians; the only completely meat-free options I saw were the margherita pizza and the California roll).
By process of elimination, I went with the tuna loin (although, as I said after I ordered it, I wasn't aware that tuna had loins). The server asked me how I wanted it done, and I just kind of stared at him. I didn't know that tuna had doneness levels. Well, I knew it did, but I never knew you had to specify it. I went with rare, though I think I should have gone medium-rare, since it was such a thick piece of fish that it was still a little cold in the middle. But forget the tuna. The real star was actually the supporting cast. Cherry tomatoes, blanched broccoli, new potatoes and garlic in this thin, spicy tomato sauce. I wished I hadn't squandered my one slice of bread but had squirreled it away to sop up this sauce. The veggies were barely cooked, so they were still firm, just the way I like them, and that sauce. Oh, that sauce. I'll dream of that sauce. Just bottle it for me; I'll drink it with a straw. Oddly, I didn't really think it went with the tuna, but I'll forgive them anything for more of that sauce.
Dessert time! You know I had to get it. And I didn't have to look at the dessert menu long to know exactly what I was getting, either. Because second on the menu, I saw something unexpected...
Brownie s'mores. Brownies with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and a homemade, toasted marshmallow. Oddly enough, I wasn't thrilled with it. The homemade marshmallow had that lovely, melt-in-your-mouth texture that you'd expect, but not a whole lot of flavor. Weird because it was homemade and toasted. I'm not sure if it got overpowered by everything else or what, but a little added vanilla in the recipe might make all the difference there. The brownies were actually a bit dry and crumbly, and I think over-cooked. It also had walnuts, which is not listed on the menu (dangerous for anyone with a nut allergy), and which I don't like. It was also next to impossible to eat in the weirdy modern plate with the weirdy modern spoon. A bowl would have made things much simpler. Also, no graham cracker. How do you have a s'more without graham crackers? S'mores have three ingredients. Chocolate and marshmallow does not a s'mores make.

I should have gone with the hazelnut gelato. That was bangin'.
And on our way out, we got free cookies, compliments of the chef. That, my friends, is good customer relations. Now only if they could be as free with their bread...

Stone House at Stirling Ridge

Pros: Locally sourced ingredients; for the most part, the food was very good; servers were very friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable; beautiful grounds; great ambiance; free cookies.

Cons: Remote location; pricey; menu selection not the best (few vegetarian options); some menu items should be explained further (i.e. walnuts in brownies); some theme confusion (very modern plates and silverware in an otherwise overwhelmingly rustic setting); stingy with the bread.

Overall rating: B+
While the food was very good, I wasn't quite sure if it was worth the price or effort of getting there. There's very little choice for me on the menu, and even less for someone who might have dietary restrictions. And to fail on a brownie, which is a pretty basic dessert, does not give me confidence in the other baked goods. I would recommend it for an event, but as a place to go out to dinner, I think I'd prefer to give it a pass.

September 11, 2012

Kim's Favorite Mac 'n Cheese

I feel like I have pretty plebian tastes. I love meatloaf and chilli. I think my mom's tuna casserole is the bomb (do people still say that? Am I hip to the lingo of today's kids? Word). I've never had champagne that I liked. And I'll take dinosaur chicken nuggets with a cupcake for dessert over some fancy-pants five-course meal anyday. So when I go to a classy restaurant, there generally isn't a whole lot to tickle my tastebuds.

Of course, whenever I'm at a classy restaurant, I feel the need to be as crass as possible. When my mother became worried that my conversations about monkey poo, proper stabbing methods, and whether or not the guy outside would let me finish his fries would get me kicked out, I cited the fact that I was a food blogger, and I could get away with anything because they don't want to alienate the blogger community. We are gods in any restaurant setting (the power! Mwahahahaha).

My brother (who started the conversation about proper stabbing methods, fyi), suggested that I should have demanded macaroni and cheese for my dinner using my power as a food blogger. They had pasta on the menu, and a whole menu devoted to cheese, it would be doable. You know what, though? I probably wouldn't have liked it. Because it would be fancy macaroni and cheese, with weirdy cheeses
I very much prefer my mac 'n cheese to any fancy thing they might have come up with. Pasta coated in my gooey homemade garlicy cheese sauce with bits of cooked onion and bacon, baked until the edges are crunchy, with crispy panko bread crumbs on top. It's not quick. It's complicated. If don't you want that, grab the blue box. But it is comfort food at its best.
I've made this recipe loads of times, and while I never quite make it the same way twice, the basics pretty much stay the same. Some part of the recipes may seem like more suggestion than instruction because of this. You'll also note that I use rotini in the pictures here, rather than the smaller pasta that I recommend. There wasn't quite enough sauce for the rotini, so do as I say, not as I do, eh?
This works as either a main dish or a side dish. Add some tuna or chicken and some broccoli, and it's a full meal. Or, if I may suggest, it goes wonderfully with dinosaur chicken nuggets.

Kim’s Favorite Mac ‘n Cheese {Printable Recipe}
Yield: 6-8 servings

1 pkg. (16 oz.) pasta (smaller pastas such as elbow or farfalle work best)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
4 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt (I use sea salt, but kosher works as well)
¼ tsp. pepper (freshly cracked, if possible)
1½ - 2 cups milk
Approx. 2 cups of your favorite shredded cheese*
Panko bread crumbs and extra shredded cheese, to top (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, but undercook it slightly (by 1-2 minutes). Drain well.

While the pasta is cooking, in another pot add the garlic and butter. Heat over medium-low heat until the butter is melted and the garlic is fragrant. Add the bacon and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is fully cooked and the onion is translucent. Add in the flour, salt, and pepper and mix well. Gradually add in the first 1½ cups milk, stirring constantly. If the mixture seems too thick, add the remaining milk, ¼ cup at a time (the sauce will thicken further as it heats and when the cheese is added, so best to err on the side of caution here). Continue to heat until it starts to boil. Remove from heat, and add the cheese ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. The cheese should be completely melted before the next batch is added. When all the cheese has been added, add the cooked pasta and mix well, making sure to coat each noodle with the sauce.

Add the pasta and sauce to a 9x13 inch baking dish and top liberally with extra shredded cheese and bread crumbs if desired. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.

Tip: I never make this recipe the same way twice. This recipe is based off of my approximations. Feel free to tweak it based on your tastes.

*I’ve never actually measured how much cheese I use. I add it by the handful until it tastes “right,” which is 3-4 handfuls. You might use more or less, based on personal preference.

Recipe by Kim

This recipe is featured on Foodie Friends Friday Linky Party